By Maya Pottiger
Governor Larry Hogan released his FY2020 budget in January, and it included a record amount of funding for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
In regard to local tributaries, environmental organizations are pleased with the proposal and its impact on these rivers.
“This announcement is good news for the bay and for our region, including the Magothy and Severn watersheds,” said Dr. Sally Hornor, vice president of the Magothy River Association and a member of the Severn River Association.
Officials at these organizations agreed that the proposal offered mostly long-term solutions as opposed to short-term fixes.
One of the key issues along the Severn River is stormwater management.
“This proposal does fund stream restoration, so that will help with the stormwater impact. And, of course, it does fund the infrastructure,” Hornor said. “That’s exactly what we need to improve our water qualities to work on this issue.”
Per the Bay Budget Overview, there are many limiting factors to stormwater management funding and timing that may lead to a “scalable statewide solution” as opposed to implementing individual solutions in different counties.
Alison Prost, the Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said that on the agricultural side, the state needs to invest in one-time, long-term investments like buffers.
“Cover crops are a great annual practice, but the state does need to invest in them year over year to keep those reductions in place,” Prost said.
The proposal has funds allocated to upgrade wastewater treatment plants, as well as hooking up failing septic systems to the county sewers.
“A lot of the underground piping that conveys our sewage is more than 40 years old. Every now and then, we do have issues with cracked pipes that cause sewage to leak onto land or into streams. Some of those pipes even go underneath our streams,” Hornor said. “That infrastructure needs to be replaced, and I know the county has a long list of areas where they’re going to be doing that.”
A big issue with adding homes to the sewer systems is the cost, which is roughly $30,000 per home, Hornor said.
“It’s shocking how expensive it is,” Hornor said. “They’re trying to figure out ways to help people do that. For right now, I think the only plan the county has is to go after those septic systems that are known to be failing because they are a public health issue.”
While Prost was overall pleased with the budget proposal, she said CBF is going to argue for more oyster funding during the budget hearings.
“This hasn’t been funded in the last few years at the levels that we feel necessary to keep pace with the needed oyster restoration,” Prost said. “We are worried the funding is not going to be sufficient to the commitments Maryland has made.”
Bob Whitcomb, who chairs the oyster committee at the Severn River Association, said it’s “good news” that the Oyster Recovery Partnership was fully funded for another year, so they will continue to bring spat to the SRA.
“We’re the largest group of volunteer oyster growers anywhere in the Chesapeake,” Whitcomb said. “I’m delighted to know that that’s fully resourced.”
Last year, the SRA received enough money from the Department of Natural Resources to plant 40 million oyster spat in the Severn. Those funds are not available this year.
“I would love to see more money set aside for oyster restoration, and I’d like to see them increase the amount available to the smaller sanctuaries, which is where the Severn River would come into play,” Whitcomb said.